On this day ten years ago, I was crouched in the corner of my office, hiding. I was between my desk, which was 60s institutional metal, and the wall, which was 60s modern-institutional glass.
I was hiding, but since I was crouched against a third-story glass window in full view of the parking lot, I wasn’t technically hidden, which is how Scott eventually found me: stressed, neurotic, possibly delusional.
I’d been having frightening moments of overwhelming paralysis. The week before, I’d been in an ante-room between the hallway and the courtroom, hashing out a deal with one of my favorite DAs.
“Deal. I’ll write it up.”
He left and I stood but suddenly couldn’t move. I stood, rooted, half praying nobody would come in but kind of hoping they would. It was my silent cry for help and I really wanted to be hauled out of there on a gurney.
Sitting on the floor of my office, willing the clock to speed up to five o’clock so everyone would forget about me and I could just leave, disregarding the fact that I was sitting on the dirty carpet in my expensive Italian wool List pantsuit, hoping the lock that sometimes didn’t work would work (or maybe wouldn’t? Again, that cry for help, complete with fantasy of being carried off to the waiting ambulance on a gurney)….Scott found me. I think our other friend Joni was there too. “Yeah, that’s happened to me before,” she said.
I called in sick for the next several days. I huddled on the couch watching reruns until the sun came out, then I’d broil myself in the Riverside August heat. One day Scott tried to bring me in to see Dr Shaker, but he was on vacation so I ended up seeing someone named Dr Usama, who brought me a sampler pack of free Prozac.
“This will see you through until Dr Shaker gets back from vacation,” he said. He wrote me a note putting me off work but I knew I had to quit of my own volition.
I broached it to Scott. At the time we had been married for about a year and a half. We’d been public defenders together since 1995 so I didn’t have to explain it to him. One moment he was shaving and I was brushing my teeth, the next he said, “Of course you can quit. Whatever. We’ll work it out.”
I never took Dr Usama’s Prozac. I booked some sessions with Dr Theobald, who specialized in very results-oriented therapy with a lot of common sense solutions and behavior modification. Dr T thought I had “situational anxiety and depression.” I thought that sounded about right.
August passed. I cried a lot. I probably cried at least several times every day. I walked to the doughnut shop next to Ralphs and bought a glazed doughnut and lottery ticket several times a week. I wrote in a journal.
“Write a list of things you like to do.”
I couldn’t think of a single thing.
“What makes you happy?”
I didn’t know.
Finally I said I thought sunshine was pretty good. She told me to spend time in the sun. (See? Common sense.)
“Imagine what you think would make you happy. Just guess.”
I went ice skating. I drove to South Coast Plaza and sat by the big statutes of whimsical oversized lima beans. I rented DVDs. I made homemade gingerbread. I spent a lot of time walking around the neighborhood.
Gradually I got better. We had kids. I became more active in volunteer work. I made more friends, first in Riverside, where we were living at the time, and then in Temecula when we moved here in 2003. I started to write more. I started to do yoga more. I still love the sun.
Now I can look back and my decade-old nervous breakdown feels simultaneously very recent and very distant. Most days it feels like it happened to someone else. The 30 year old me and the 40 year old me are only sort of the same woman.
Oh, and it’s Peppy’s birthday today, too. She is 11. Peppy is going to bury us all, with her big pink Iams-fed belly and snuffly orange fur. I remember the first time we saw Peppy. We were walking into the Humane Society to see “two cats we think would be perfect for you guys.” They were best friends who met in ringworm quarantine. They were being offered as a package deal because they fell in love. Peppy and Polo. Polo was a black and white tabby and Peppy is orange. I saw her marmalade fur through the window and said, “I hope that’s one of them! I’ve always wanted an orange cat.”
And my car turns 10 this month. Almost 150,000 miles and going strong. I love you, Big Red. Thanks for seeing me through my nervous breakdown.